Colorful Phagwah Parade returns to Richmond Hill

By Bill Parry

The Phagwah Parade made its triumphant return to Richmond Hill Saturday following a one-year hiatus. Last year the Hindu celebration marking the beginning of spring was canceled for the first time since 1988 because of political disputes within the organizing committee.

The future of the Indo-Caribbean spectacle was in question when two rival factions, the Hindu Parades and Festivals Committee and the Federation of Hindu Mandirs, both applied for permits to run the parade. The competing requests forced the NYPD to revoke the permit, thus canceling the parade.

The dispute landed in front of Queens Supreme Court Justice Allan Weiss, who ruled the two factions would put on a “joint parade under joint sponsorship.”

At the staging area at Liberty Avenue and 133rd Street, the dispute seemed forgotten as hundreds of people crammed onto floats representing different temples. The pulsating beats of Chowtal folk songs blasted from speakers and percussionists added to the sonic intensity.

Phagwah, also called Holi, is known around the world as the festival of color, in which participants and spectators celebrate the triumph of good over evil by flinging red dye, colored powders, water and flowers at each other. Thousands stood behind police barricades along the Liberty Avenue business district and cheered as the floats went by.

Many of the storefronts were selling supplies of the colored powders and canisters of baby powder for those who ran out of supplies. At one point, an overzealous participant threw a large amount of green powder directly in the face of a middle-aged woman who swung her pocketbook in retaliation, missing the mark as the celebrant scurried back to her float.

As the parade turned north onto 125th Street, residents were out in force watching from porches, rooftops and windows. At 101-18 125th St., a woman named Dianna danced with her little dog Louie.

“We have him out here every year,” she said. “But last year he was so sad there was no parade.”

Mike Rhodes was sitting on a front stoop of a nearby home belonging to his son. He made the trip from his home in Northport, L.I.

“This parade is phenomenal with all of the sounds and the color, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Rhodes said. “Yeah, we don’t have anything like this in Northport. It gives you an indication of just how great this neighborhood is.”

The parade ended at Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto Park at 125th Street and Atlantic Avenue, where members of the Caribbean Equality Project, an LGBT group that marched for the first time, greeted fellow marchers as everyone streamed onto the ball fields for an afternoon of music and dancing. Young people bombarded each other with the powders, taking a break occasionally to text on cell phones inside Ziploc bags.

Hollis resident Pearl Parasram has been coming to Richmond Hill to celebrate Phagwah for 15 years.

“It’s something you expect every year and look forward to every year,” she said. “We were so disappointed that it didn’t happen last year. This is all about friendship and unity. The unity of the temples that connect for the one time a year.”

Herman Singh, the director of the Hindu Parades and Festivals Committee, told the crowd they should thank God for the wonderful weather and an incident-free parade.

“We’re very happy to be back here for our 28th year,” he said. “This is an institution that will stay right here in Richmond Hill.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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